You read it again and again in marijuana grow forums from both newbie growers and more experienced growers; “Is my marijuana plant ready for harvest?”. Growing marijuana can be very exciting and the closer you get to the finish line the more exciting it becomes. But remember this, you spent a lot of time and energy getting your plants to this point; are you going to cut corners now and hurt your grow? Most people think that their grow is ready for harvest but are usually 2 to 4 weeks early on their estimates.
You also need to remember that harvest isn’t the finish line. Once harvested, you’ll still need to manicure, dry and cure which all take time. There’s just no need to rush because you can’t decrease the time needed for curing. Making the right call on harvest time can make a huge difference in marijuana yields, potency, and mental effect of the marijuana you’ve grown. While harvesting a marijuana plant too early can be bad, harvesting late can also be bad. If your marijuana has over-ripened, you’ll have made a batch of "couch lock" which is generally an undesirable effect.
The 3 Items a Marijuana Grower Needs to Pick the Perfect Harvest Time
You aren’t going to need a whole lot of tools to identify the best harvest time for your marijuana plant. All you’ll need is:
A basic understanding of how to identify when your buds are ready (which you are learning from this article).
The next item you will need is your eyes. Your eyes are what you’ll use to identify the signs of ripeness.
To see the Trichomes, you’ll need a magnifying tool. Your eyes alone aren’t strong enough to see the trichomes on your marijuana plant. You need at least 60X magnification.
With just these three tools, you’ll be able to lock down your perfect harvest time.
Magnifying Tool Options
Jeweler’s Loupe – If you are on a budget, you can get a loupe for less than 15 dollars on Amazon. While great for your budget, a loupe might not be enough strength if your eyes are weak or you have poor lighting conditions.
Handheld Magnifier – A hand magnifier is the next step up. These mini microscopes provide you with 120X of zoom which is enough to clearly see your trichomes.
Digital Microscope – If you have the budget for it, the “Orb” digital microscope is the way to go. You can view your buds up close and personal on your computer or devices. To truly see and marvel at the beauty of your glorious trichomes, this is the way to go. Check out this sample video taken with a digital microscope.
We will be examining two parts of your buds to identify if they are ready for harvesting. By looking at these two separate areas, we’ll get the full picture as to when the marijuana plant will be ready.
Identify and Check the Pistils
Step one is to identify the pistils (the female reproductive parts) on marijuana buds. Pistils are like fine hairs which are visible all over your buds. Before your plant matured, these hairs would have been white and wispy. By the time your buds are getting close to harvest time, these same hairs will start to curl and change colors. To maximize THC content in your buds, you’ll want to wait to harvest them until at least 60-70% of the hairs (pistils) have curled up and changed color. On most strains of marijuana, the pistils will be amber. On some special strains, this can be different. For example, White Widow will mature without the pistils changing from their natural white color. Other strains could mature to different colors as well - but most strains will turn amber. If you are looking for marijuana that couch locks you with a heavy, body-euphoric buzz then you can harvest when 80% or more of the pistils have changed color.
Don’t panic if your buds aren’t maturing as fast as you expect them too. The longer they grow the denser the buds become and will continue to increase your yield; the longer you wait for your marijuana to reach maturity the more payoff you will get!
Remember that checking the pistils is only step one and meant to give you a general indicator of your marijuana plant's maturity. We will now look at trichomes up close and personal to get the other half of the harvesting picture. For this part of your observations, a magnifying device is required so get it ready now.
Too Early for Harvest
By examining the image below, you will find that the pistils are still straight and very white still.
Closer to Harvest
In the picture below, the pistils still have not matured enough. You can see that easily 60% of the hairs have not changed yet. It looks like the plant is still 2 to 3 weeks away from reaching maximum THC levels. Feel good about waiting for your buds because the longer they grow the denser they become.
Ready to Harvest
It’s been 3 weeks since we last checked up on our marijuana plant. A close examination now reveals that 60% of the pistils are now darkened which means the plant has reached maximum THC levels and is ready to harvest. If you are looking for a "couch lock" effect, you’ll need to wait another week or two for 80% of the pistils to change. At that point, your product will produce more of an anti-anxiety or calming effect.
Don’t forget that certain strains of marijuana will mature differently. Some plants will have pistils that don’t change color or that change to a completely different color.
If you use pistils as the indicator of harvest readiness, you are only seeing about half of the picture. For example, a strain such as White Widow will have pistils that remain white all through maturity. If you are growing a funky strain you should reach out to the breeder or the person you purchased the seeds from to find out the maturity details for that strain. You always need to be willing to do a little research.
Checking the Trichomes for the First Time
It’s time to pull out your magnification tool. Today's the day we examine the trichomes up close and personal under magnification. The trichomes are just barely visible when viewed without magnification, they appear as shiny minuscule bumps on your buds.
As you start to magnify the trichomes, you will begin to notice that the trichomes are actually mushroom shaped and they cover all of the bud material. These tiny growths are filled with THC and are the whole reason why you’ve put so much effort into growing these marijuana plants. The growths that you see are resin glands which are known as trichomes. You will also see trichomes without the mushroom head, these should be ignored, you are only interested in the beautiful mushroom shaped glands. All of the THC and CBD is located in those mushroom-shaped glands.
To get a sharp look at the trichomes you’ll need to place your magnification device very close to your buds - just a fraction of an inch away from the surface. You will need to move the magnifier up and down to bring focus to trichomes, as you do this you will start to note the shape and color of the tiny trichomes. How exciting! If you choose a loupe as your magnification tool, you may struggle here a bit. The lens size is small so you’ll only be able to focus a very small part of the bud at any time. You will need to spot sample many spots on the bud with your loupe to get a good feel for what’s going on with your bud.
The next best option is the 120x handheld magnifier. With this device, you will be able to get a clear look at the individual trichome glands allowing for exact examination. The only drawback of the handheld magnifier is there is an extremely small field of focus. You’ll need to spend quite a bit of time examining every part of your bud. This option is still really affordable as you can grab a handheld 120x magnifier on Amazon.com for as little as $15.
If you are like me and really get a kick out of viewing your buds up close and seeing the glistening THC, the zOrb illuminated microscope is where it's at. You can view your buds via your laptop or computer by using the USB cord provided. The microscope not only gets amazingly close up and clear, it provides its own illumination which provides even better viewing experience. I love to get a nice video of my trichome examinations so that I can watch them closely afterward and then compare videos to each other over time. The zOrb is available from amazon.com for about $50.
The best option to be able to view your trichomes with super detail would be the Carson zOrb. This microscope has the ability to be plugged into your laptop or computer where you can record live video and stills of your trichomes for very detailed examination. I didn’t purchase the Carson right away because it is just under $50, I made due with a loupe for a long time. Once I invested the money in the Carson zOrb, I found it to be worth every cent of the investment. The images and video generated by the Carson microscope aren’t just useful but are beautiful and a joy to gaze at.
With your trichomes now under magnification, you can finally get a good long look at them and start to take note of your bud’s characteristics. Important Note: Different strains of marijuana will produce different colored trichomes so make sure you research the genetics of your seeds, so you know what to expect. Under magnification, start to look for the trichomes with the tiny mushroom heads on them. Take note of how the trichomes look, they may look shiny and plastic like or even glass-like.
As you are examining your trichomes you’ll need to focus your attention on just one or two of the structures at a time. Now you start the difficult process of comparing the mushroom heads to each other. You are looking for differences in the trichomes such as color shifts and or fogginess. The more time you spend looking, the easier this process will become - at first it will seem impossible. Just stick to it. You could spend an hour examining the trichomes before you have a good idea of the general condition.
If your examination shows that 60% or more of the trichomes have become foggy or amber colored, then your plant is mature. Couple that information with your pistils examination and you now you have two distinct data points that lead to the plant being mature. If your trichomes aren’t 60% changed, you are still too early and need to wait and check again in a few days. With these two points to examine you can easily decide the best time for harvest.
The picture below shows trichomes in 3 different states. In the first image, the trichomes are clear and not ready for harvest. The next image shows milky trichomes and the final image shows trichomes that have changed to an amber color. If your buds are mostly covered with milky and amber trichomes then your crop is ready for harvest. If you wait much longer, all the trichomes will change color to amber and your marijuana will create couch lock.
The image above shows a bud with pistils that have changed color and curled up. Your initial call might be that this bud is ready. Look closer at the trichomes and you will see that most of the trichomes are still clear and therefore not ready for harvest. Therefore, the two-identification options work together to ensure you harvest at the right time.
The pistils (hairs on your buds) are sticking out mostly straight, as well the trichomes are very clear. If you harvest your buds now you won’t reach maximum THC concentration.
The start of harvest season starts when 40% or more of the white hairs have curled and darkened in color. At this point, you should begin flushing the nutrients out of your plants and soil so that they don’t end up affecting the final taste of your marijuana.
THC content is at its highest when most of the trichomes have become milky or cloudy. These buds are going to produce the most euphoric and psychoactive effects.
Once most of your trichomes have changed to an amber color and are very cloudy, your bud will produce couch lock. This is a very sedative high that most people are not looking for.
Picking the desired Buzz
As I’ve explained, your harvest time will directly control the effect of the buzz your marijuana provides. If you are looking for a headstone, then you’ll need to harvest earlier when about 40% of the trichomes have become cloudy or milky. For heavy psychoactive effects (traditional) harvest when 60% or more of the trichomes have become milky or cloudy. If you are looking for a sedative or anti-anxiety medication, then waiting for your trichomes to become amber.
When I head into the harvesting stage, I like to take a bit of bud off at each stage so that I can smoke it and check out its effect as it matures. By doing this, you will develop a personal preference for the type of high you are looking for or that works for you. That’s why growing your own marijuana is a great idea. You can produce the exact medication that you are looking for. If you purchase it, you get one high which you can’t change.
Growing Marijuana is a Lesson in Patience
You’ve spent so much time loving and caring for your marijuana plants over the last 3 months or so. It’s important not to get over excited and want to get into your weed before its ready. If you really can’t wait for the full harvest then feel free to cut a couple buds off your plant. It won’t hurt it, but leave the rest alone until it reaches full maturity.
Just a little time can make the difference between ok weed and fantastic weed. Don’t blow it after all the hard work. If you are ever in doubt, take some clear close up pictures of your issues and post them to any of the popular weed forums. Many experienced growers hand out free valuable advice daily in these places. They would be more than happy to give you their two cents about what’s going on with your plants.
Written by: Bud Durden - Buds Grow Guide
NEXT: How To Store Your Weed Long Term!
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